01:13 - Source: WABC
New York TSA worker accused of sexually abusing passenger

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Charges against Maxie Oquendo, 40, include unlawful imprisonment and sexual abuse, prosecutor says

Oquendo allegedly sexually abused a woman in a bathroom at LaGuardia Airport, district attorney says

New York CNN  — 

A Transportation Security Administration screener has been charged with unlawfully imprisoning and sexually abusing a college student in a bathroom after she stepped off a flight at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, authorities said Friday.

Maxie Oquendo, 40, a Manhattan resident, allegedly approached the 21-year-old female on Tuesday in an area where passengers do not need to be screened, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement. Her flight from Salt Lake City had just landed.

“Hey, ma’am, I need to scan your body and your luggage,” the screener allegedly told the passenger, according to the statement.

Oquendo then allegedly motioned for the woman to follow him to a bathroom, the statement said. When she asked that a female TSA employee screen her, the officer ordered her to face a mirror and raise her arms.

The statement said Oquendo allegedly “had her lift up her shirt and unzip her pants and touched her breasts and other areas of her body over and under her clothing.”

After telling the passenger he was not checking her luggage, Oquendo allegedly said into his cell phone, “She’s clear. She doesn’t have any weapons or knives,” according to the statement.

TSA officers are not authorized to conduct “a secondary pat-down outside of a checkpoint area,” the statement said. “A witness must be present when passengers are patted down by officers of the opposite sex. Those searches must be conducted in a private screening area.”

“The defendant is accused of an egregious abuse of his position as a government screener at LaGuardia Airport to sexually victimize a young woman,” Brown said in the statement. “Such alleged conduct cannot, under any circumstances, go unpunished.”

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said in a separate statement that Oquendo has been fired.

“TSA holds its employees to the highest standards,” Neffenger said. ” As such, we expect our employees to conduct themselves with integrity, professionalism and with respect for the public we serve.”

Oquendo is being held pending arraignment on charges of second-degree unlawful imprisonment, official misconduct, third-degree sexual abuse and second-degree harassment, Brown’s statement said. If convicted, he faces up to one year in jail.

It’s unclear whether Oquendo has a lawyer.

In April, two TSA screeners were fired after conspiring to grope attractive men at Denver International Airport, authorities said.

In the Denver case, officials said, when a male TSA officer noticed a man he found attractive, he alerted a female TSA officer.

The female officer would then tell the screening machine that a female passenger – not a male – was walking through. That information would trigger a machine to register an anomaly in the groin area, prompting the male TSA officer to pat down the passenger, according to police.

During the pat-down, the male TSA officer used the palms of his hands to touch the passenger’s front groin area and buttocks, in violation of TSA policy.

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